store, offices and marina. Next, one would drive past the boat launch and day-use picnic and swimming area, the row of cabins that included the one in which Garrett’s family was staying, and then into the campgrounds. RV pads with water and electricity lay along the lakeside and lined the two smaller roads that bisected the resort. Wooded tent-camping grounds were located in the center of the compound, still within view of the glittering water.
Even on this weekday the lake was filled with boaters, skiers, personal watercraft and swimmers. He spotted one distant sailboat, its sails white against the blue sky. The campgrounds weren’t yet full, but he passed quite a few elaborate RVs with hydraulic extensions and awnings and smaller vehicles that had been pulled behind with tow bars. Some had maybe stopped for a night or two on their way to the Gulf coast, he figured, noting license tags from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arkansas. Others were perhaps regulars who came to fish and visit with camping friends and otherwise escape the daily grind.
A young couple on bicycles, the man with a toddler in a seat on the back of his bike, passed in the other direction, exchanging waves and casual greetings with Garrett. A large, barrel-chested man walking a Chihuahua on a sparkly leash tipped his ten-gallon hat when he and Garrett crossed paths. “How’s it going?”
“Good, thanks,” Garrett answered. “You?”
“Ridin’ high, thankee. Here for some fishing?”
Having been raised in Texas, Garrett was accustomed to garrulous strangers striking up conversation. “Here with my kids for the week.”
“Well, ain’t that nice. You have a good ‘un.”
“Same to you.”
“Let’s go, Prissy,” the big man said to his wandering little dog, giving a slight tug on the leash.
Smiling, Garrett continued on his way.
Looping around the end of the resort, he started up the other side toward the marina. The tent grounds were on his left now, woods on his right. On the other side of those trees, accessed by a private drive, were the homes of the Bell family. He’d never been into the private compound, but Maggie had once mentioned that three houses and four manufactured homes housed the various family members who worked in the resort. One of the mobile homes belonged to Hannah, who used it when she and her husband and baby were here. The others belonged to Maggie and Shelby and Steven, who’d held on to his place here even though he was pursuing career goals elsewhere.
Not for the first time, he wondered what it had been like for Maggie growing up here, and whether she had any professional goals beyond working for the resort for the rest of her life. Not that he considered that an unworthy ambition in itself. He was simply curious about her. Very curious.
Just as he reached the Private Drive sign, a heavy-duty green utility cart paused at the end of the drive. He nodded when he recognized Aaron Walker in the driver’s seat. He’d met Aaron a couple of times and he seemed like a decent guy.
Dark-haired, dark-eyed Aaron leaned out of the cart to shake Garrett’s hand. “Nice to see you,” he said. “Enjoying your stay?”
“Very much, thanks. We took the boat out for a while earlier. The girls saw a couple of herons and egrets and a raccoon at the edge of the water. Kix especially loves seeing wildlife.”
“Go out early and you’re likely to see some deer in the coves.”
“I’ll take her out tomorrow morning. Maybe fish a little.”
They dawdled a few more minutes, talking about the most likely nearby spots for Kix to catch a fish, then Aaron had to move on. He and Bryan were stringing red, white and blue lights on the pavilion this afternoon, he explained. The back of the cart was filled with supplies he’d brought from storage. “You need a lift?”
Garrett shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m enjoying the walk.”
Aaron pulled his green resort cap down on his forehead. “See you around.”
Garrett waited until the cart buzzed away before walking on. He figured he might as well go straight to the main building and get the girls. It had been almost two hours since he’d left them, and Maggie was probably ready to get them out of her hair.
He knew his girls would get a kick out of the upcoming festivities. They’d been in surprisingly cheerful moods so far today, despite Payton’s inability to resist the occasional dig at his excessive rules—in her opinion. Maybe Kix’s idea of a family retreat, while unexpected, had been a good one after all. He had to admit there had been too much tension in his house lately as the girls had rebelled in their own ways against his stricter expectations than they’d had with their mother. The methods he’d used as an air force major to supervise young airmen didn’t seem to work nearly as well with a couple of adolescent daughters.
Stepping through the entry door, he saw that the lobby was already transformed from when he’d left. Flags and bunting festooned nearly every surface. Payton and Kix, assisted by Shelby, seemed to be looking for places to add even more. Maggie’s mom stood in the doorway of the store, watching the activities with a smile while keeping an eye on the few customers browsing among her shelves. Patriotic decals clung to the glass walls of the diner and store. Through the decorated glass he could see that business was picking up as the early dinner crowd shuffled in.
He didn’t see Maggie at first. And then he spotted her behind the counter, precariously balanced on a stepladder as she stretched up to place one last bunting rosette high on the wall. Shaking his head, he moved to steady the ladder, wondering why no one else had thought to do so. She smiled down at him. “Your cheeks are flushed.”
“I’ve been walking. The wind is picking up a bit.”
He stood eye level with her breasts, something he was trying hard to ignore. Being the healthy male that he was, he wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it. They were so nicely outlined by her purple wrap top. He kept his eyes focused upward on her face instead—which wasn’t exactly a hardship. “You’ve gotten a lot done since I left.”
She straightened the rosette in the bare space she’d been trying to fill. “We’ve had some good helpers. The girls worked very hard.”
That didn’t surprise him. Once his daughters became enthused about something, they gave it their all. Maggie started down the ladder and he put a hand on the small of her back to steady her. It was an automatic gesture he made without thinking. Yet when he felt the warmth of her through her clothing, felt the curve of her spine beneath his hand, felt the ripple of muscle when she climbed down, his entire body reacted with a surge of awareness that caught him off guard. He dropped his hand almost too abruptly, stepping back quickly out of her way.
“Too bad we don’t hang mistletoe for Independence Day,” Kix said, wide-eyed and innocent as she gazed at them. “It’s fun hanging mistletoe at Christmastime, right?”
Garrett raised an eyebrow. Surely his daughter wasn’t suggesting he should kiss Maggie?
Maggie chuckled. “I don’t think we want to deal with mistletoe year-round, Kix. My grandfather would try to hang out here in the lobby and kiss all the pretty girls who come in.”
Shelby laughed musically. “You’ve got that right. Pop does like to flirt.”
Payton and Kix stood in the center of the lobby to look around critically. “Does it look good, Maggie?” Payton asked. “Miss Linda, do you see any empty places?”
Maggie and her mother made a show of studying the room from every angle, tilting their heads and narrowing their eyes. Both declared it to be perfect, an opinion solemnly endorsed by Shelby and Rosie.
“This must be the most patriotic resort lobby in all of Texas,” Maggie added, reaching for the two big boxes that had held decorations.
“Let me help you with those,” Garrett offered.
Maggie smiled at him over the armload. “I’m just taking them upstairs to the storage room.”
He relieved her of the stack without giving her a chance to protest. Shrugging, she turned and led the way upstairs.
It was the first time Garrett